The State Patrol is looking for more recruits as it solves the problem of a shortage of soldiers

LINCOLN. The number of state troopers patrolling Nebraska’s highways hit a new low, although the state’s chief of patrol said Tuesday he sees good news in the recovery.

Colonel John Balduk, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol, told the state legislature committee that he has 69 vacancies for state troops out of the approved state of 482 uniformed officers.

“Frankly, this is the worst thing that has ever happened,” Bolduc told members of the Legislative Assembly Committee on Appropriations.

Raise the coming

Bolduc appeared before the committee to testify in favor of Gov. Jim Pillen’s budget recommendation for the agency, which includes a record 22% pay increase for military personnel effective July 1.

The Colonel told the committee that the Patrol is facing the same “headwinds” that are affecting law enforcement recruiting and retention across the country – a tight job market, wage increases in competing positions, and “some pretty impressive bad headlines” about incarcerated deaths. . with the participation of the police.

“This is a big problem,” Bolduc said.

The Patrol training camp currently has 15 recruits, down from 20-25 in the past, but still more than the recent camp, which had eight soldier candidates.

small recruiting camps

According to him, neighboring states also have fewer applicants. Currently, a course of recruits of five is being trained in Kansas, and a class of 20 is being trained in Missouri, a state with more than three times the population of Nebraska, Bolduc said.

“We have some really great candidates, we just don’t have enough of them,” he said.

There has been some good news lately, the colonel told the committee. According to him, 79 candidates applied for the next draft camp in the first 10 days, which is the highest number in this period of time.

This, according to Bolduc, may reflect the recent publicity of the salary increase.

New state prison, overtime

The Colonel also told the committee that hiring two new fingerprint specialists, as proposed in the Governor’s budget, should help address the slow background checks that have slowed the hiring of childcare workers.

On Tuesday, the Appropriations Committee also testified about the proposed budget for the state penitentiary system. It includes a $24.9 million shortfall request to cover pay increases for security personnel and inflationary costs for food and medical care for prisoners that were not covered in the previous budget.

The newly proposed budget includes a final appropriation of $95 million to build a new $350 million state prison that can house more than 1,500 inmates.

Diane Sabatka-Rine, acting director of the Nebraska Department of Corrections, said the department can no longer wait for a new prison. It is intended to replace the aging Lincoln State Penitentiary, where a recent water main failure flooded an apartment building, forcing the relocation of 140 inmates.

The salary increase helped, but the vacancies remained

She said the pay raise given to security officers had shown “remarkable success” in filling more than 400 vacancies for corrections corporals and others over the past year.

But Doug Kobernick, inspector general of corrections, testified that as of January 1, the agency still had 362 vacancies in all positions, and that two facilities, at Tecums and the Lincoln Admissions and Treatment Center, were still staffed with “emergency cases.” leading to interruptions in rehabilitation programs and other activities.

Kobernick said there is a severe shortage of medical workers in state prisons, with only six of 18 psychologist positions filled and the agency running short of psychiatrists.

What does it say about our state if we are spending $350 million on a new prison but not spending money on child poverty?

– Diane Amdor of Nebraska Appleseed

State Senator Anna Wishart of Lincoln wondered if correctional facilities, given pay increases, could cut their overtime costs, which topped $20 million last fiscal year.

Sabatka-Rhein said overtime costs remain high for several reasons. She said one of them is that the staff working in the two prisons in emergency mode automatically get overtime because they work four 12-hour shifts a week.

Some reject the new prison

Three witnesses, including representatives from the Nebraska Appleseed and the Nebraska ACLU, urged the committee to withhold funding for the new prison and instead consider sentencing reform that would gradually reduce the flow of inmates.

“Our punitive response to violence is not working,” said Fran Kay, a longtime volunteer in state prisons.

She has proposed alternatives to imprisonment, the release of prisoners who do not pose a threat to public safety, and investment in policies to combat poverty and unemployment.

Diane Amdor of Nebraska Appleseed said giving child tax credits, which halved child poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic, would be the best investment.

“What does it say about our state if we are spending $350 million on a new prison but not spending money on child poverty?” Amdor said.

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